Life is Strange stunned players with the chance to peel back the layers of an abnormal girl placed in a somewhat normal society. We saw the ups and downs of the supernatural ability to dial back time. We were emotionally invested in the development of Max as a character. More importantly, we were introduced to a very special girl; Chloe Price. The punk rocker with the most positive attitude in the room dazzled us with her laid back charm, and through the game’s five episodes we managed to see all of the twists and turns she brought to a story already ripe with cliffhanger moments. Now the table has turned, and after the events of Life Is Strange and Chloe is on her own and scheming through her own adventures.
Now developed by Square Enix’s “Deck Nine” instead of Dontnod, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm follows Chloe as she continues to live her life in Arcadia Bay without Max. This is something that’s brought up a few times, but the writers didn’t hang their head on the fact that Max is not here, and that they couldn’t toy with her powers. Chloe is too busy worrying about other things to even care. Our story begins with a bang as we find her trying to sneak into a heavy metal concert. After some skilled maneuvering, she finds a way in, and her exploits begin. From here a chain of events transpires that left my heart aching, my eyes watering, and my jaw opened in disbelief. The narrative does so much more than you’d expect a first episode to do, and that’s something I admired a lot about Square’s newest adventure game.
A New Adventure
Though the story begins at a dismal pace (making Chloe feel just plain defeated) it lightens up when Chloe runs into an unexpected friend. Rachel Amber, the “it” girl of Blackwell is the last person you’d expect to find Chloe with, but in a strange turn of events, the two take a break from school life to go on a grand adventure. This is where the dialogue and dramatic sequences really start, and we get the amazing writing that was definitely up to par with the original game. We see Chloe being the nervous girl with a crush, we see Rachel have complexities that coincide with Chloe’s, and we even get some amusing sparks of conflict that could turn into much more in later episodes.
Relatability was the key in this story. It tells a common suburban tale about two young adults experiencing feelings they don’t know how to cope with yet, feelings that are complex and never really have an exact answer. From homemade clay ashtrays to the conversations about curfew with mom, the scenes all conjure up images of my childhood in ways that were all too familiar. This is great for the adventure genre, seeing as most other games today aren’t telling “average people” stories. Even the last Life Is Strange season had some heroic or other worldly elements to freshen up the pace, but not this time around.
Breaking up these very serious or somber moments with a bit of laughter also retained some interactivity. I got to play a whole game of D and D, watched as Chloe wrote impressively clever graffiti, and smiled at each flirtatious joke Chloe and Rachel shared. This interactivity was also heightened by the newest mechanic Decknine emplaced in the player, and in Chloe. Though it doesn’t quite win the award for best sci-fi concept, Chloe’s new ability made the experience all the more compelling. While in an important, or even unimportant conversation, you can now select the option to play a mini game of sorts. This conversation battle sees the player taking what the other says and reflects Chloe’s answer back to them. Being tuned into these conversations are especially important if you want to win, and trust me some of these you’ll be dying to win. The new mechanic was a great way to keep players interested in the conversation, and also allowed for a change of pace in otherwise slow and methodical dialogue options.
Chloe is Back
The new entry into the series wouldn’t be anything without a legitimate sense of place
All of this wraps up into a package that makes Before The Storm’s first episode one of the best text adventure episodes I’ve played in a while, and definitely the best first episode to any series I’ve ever played, ever. The relationship Chloe and Rachel build isn’t anything like Chloe and Max’s. It’s filled with mystique and a bit of hostile passiveness. Even better; the amount of insight we get into Chloe’s mind is contemporary with its unique use of flashback styled summaries. Lastly, the story caps off in a perfect ending, leaving a lot to be answered for in the rest of the series, but also giving us enough resolution.This new chapter in Chloe’s life (and in the franchise) isn’t just a copy and paste coming to age tale, it’s a fresh new spin on an old world, filled with all new possibilities.
The good doesn’t stop there. The new entry into the series wouldn’t be anything without a legitimate sense of place. Luckily, the game’s soundtrack provides that, and so much more. Subtle guitar rips pave the way for thematic intensity. The indie punk rock feels matched the visuals so good that some scenes felt like music videos isolated in a heart melting drama. Sometimes I’d stop and admire the choice of music that so gracefully flows over the golden dialogue which rolled off of the tongue of my favorite characters. In short, who ever picked the soundtrack for Life Is Strange: Before The Storm deserves some real credit.
Life Is Not Perfect
No game is without its flaws, and though this new entry into the Life Is Strange franchise barely has any, there are some that kept this experience from garnering my full admiration. The first of which is the graphical improvements over the game’s predecessor, of which there was none. In fact, at some points, I thought textures of objects looked like they were cut from PS2 era technology and pasted onto Square’s current engines. I will say that, for some reason, random objects like water and sunlight looked as if they came from a much more graphically superior game. It might have been performance issues, but the inconsistency of the art style just made the game look off at certain times.